Utah is a great place to live and with our close-knit communities and low crime rates, we often forget that not everyone is worthy of our trust. Unfortunately, we experience an inordinately high level of financial fraud in this state and the predators are all too often friends and associates.
Over the past year, the three of us have worked together, looking long and hard to find a way to stem the growing tide of white collar crime in our state. We have come to the conclusion that an important part of this process is an educated populace, armed with tools to better protect themselves. Consumers and investors should have as much easily accessible information as possible when considering whom to trust with their investments.
H.B. 378 institutes the Utah White Collar Crime Offender Registry for those who have been convicted of at least second degree felonies for financial crimes such as securities fraud and theft by deception. It is intended to highlight those who are the most severe offenders and appear to be most predatory given the seriousness of offenses. The Utah Attorney General’s Office is tasked with the responsibility to develop, operate and maintain the registry website.
While the information to be contained on the registry is already available to the public, it isn’t organized in any manner that makes it simple for citizens to access or find. This will simply make it easier to obtain, empowering citizens to protect themselves and loved ones in financial decisions. It will not keep us from encouraging citizens to continue using other information, such as web searches and sites in their due diligence.
Recent high-profile cases around the country speak to the ease with which white collar criminals often perpetuate their crimes for long periods and jump right back into that way of life even after having been caught and convicted. The rate of rescidivism or repeat offenses is alarming for these types of crimes. The number of victims in even one case is often in the dozens and can exceed thousands.
Because of the large volume, and high dollar amounts of fraud crimes in the state of Utah, most cases the FBI investigates are in excess of $10 million. Many of these investigations are complicated and can take years, translating into millions of dollars lost before criminals are brought to justice. While our AG’s office has dramatically expanded efforts to investigate and prosecute all fraud cases, no matter the size, very few victims ever receive restitution (repayment) and those that do usually see only pennies returned for every dollar lost. The registry serves another critical function in incentivizing perpetrators to return dollars to victims up front in a plea and avoid listing or even after sentencing with the possibility of removal.
In our state, where many people are closely connected through church or other community associations, it becomes easy for fraud to occur. Vigilance must not be forgotten simply because one is dealing with a neighbor or fellow parishioner. Ronald Reagan wisely warned, “Trust, but verify.” We plan to market this tool robustly with the hope that usage will be widespread when investment decisions are being made and it will make the public more cognizant of the potential for victimization.
This law is the culmination of more than a year of study and investigation, including review of social science regarding reintegration and discussions with defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges. Many promoting criminal justice reform support our approach because it allows judges to sentence shorter prison terms with some protection to the public in the form of the registry. It also accelerates an offenders chance to begin or further make restitution.
H.B. 378’s registry is a crucial tool that gives individuals access to vital information with which they can make informed financial and investment decisions, will increase repayment of restitution to victims and may deter registrees from re-offending given the risk of extended or lifetime registration for repeat offenses.
Sean D. Reyes
Utah Attorney General
Utah State Senate
Utah House of Representatives
Published March 21, 2015 in The Salt Lake Tribune.